Book Review: “The Bridegroom,” by Ha Jin
By, Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu
“The Bridegroom” by Ha Jin could have been satirical writing that highlights homosexuality in a way where it appears “uncommon” and may actually present a platform for its liberation or increased dialog. However, cultural dynamics with homosexuality vary drastically from country to country. This China based story was written with clarity. The author may have wished to creatively showcase sexual differences and “gender variety” with the aim to add compassion or education. The approach may have been satirical as if there were few and they were on their way to incarceration, however, the intention may have been to highlight cultural disparities and gender identity for purely educational purposes. The short story illustrated pain, confusion, cultural tradition, and incrimination. The author may have analyzed “sentiment” and guided his narrator towards character development, which ultimately taught readers to have a concern and care for his character’s issues. The book focuses on the relationship between Baowen and Beina, where Baowen has been detained for homosexual acts in a group meeting. Beina’s uncle is, however, the main character and narrator. The secondary idea beneath the sexual identity issues was that it may have been a political cover-up by an oppressed people “organizing” disguised as gay sex that rendered Baowen eventually incarcerated.
The wearing of shorts by Baowen when entering the tub (electrocution bath) creates a dynamic where you never know what genitals a person actually has. One who appears to be a woman may actually be a female transgender. One who appears to be a man may have sexual dysfunction or may have some other sexual alternative. The author purposely wanted to create for the reader a context of “gender ambiguity.” “To my dismay, Baowen came out in a clean pair of shorts,” [Jin, pg. 595] when entering the tub. It was even questioned, at one point, that he (Baowen) has no genitals at all (as if that were common) and later that he shows “a big bulge.” [Jin, pg. 595] One is anticipating a nude description and in the end, the character conceals his gender identity and one is meant to learn to accept this ambiguity, instantly and rise to a higher ground of caring for the individual regardless of design.
What was a comical and decorative allusion was at the end when he un-knitted a pajama set from his wife and re-gifted a re-knitted sweater to a new male lover. The use of textiles provided the reader with décor and perhaps it is a common Chinese idea to un-knit a sweater as author Amy Tan also suggests un-knitting and re-knitting of sweaters in the “Joy Luck Club.”
“The Bridegroom,” Ha Jin, Literature and the Human Experience, Bedford St. Martins, 1999, pg. 587-601
“The Joy Luck Club,” Amy Tan, G.P. Putnam’s and Sons, 1989